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The Future of Gambling
Just as Julian Carter was drifting off to sleep, he felt the feeling of slowly being pulled back while his body wanted to go forward. Slowly realizing what had happened, he took a look out of the driver's side window onto U.S. Route 95 as well as the other vehicles, computer systems certainly wondering why his stopped, whizzing by at about 300 kilometers per hour.
Julian had not been particularly keen on making this trip to begin with, in fact, he was never particularly keen on leaving his apartment. After all, as a systems designer for a music producer in charge of creating software used to determine what the hottest and trendiest beats were and then creating mathematical algorithms that would produce even trendier and hotter music, he really never needed to leave the house, after all, the opinions of the listeners (who were too ignorant of the process to ever really be able to understand what music they liked and why) were irrelevant.
Besides that, Julian thought, when you have access to the latest tech, an apartment is never really just an apartment. He could get in a full cardio workout, order his grocery delivery for the evening, go to a, 'Live,' concert-front row-all within the same hour. Virtual reality had gotten better than ever in recent years and the delivery programs were getting better at creating a more robust experience as the, 'Holes,' that the brain once recognized were becoming fewer and the experience becoming richer and more intricate. Julian may not have known it, but the experiences were not actually becoming astoundingly, 'More real,' only slightly, 'More real,' people had simply lost any true concept of what real experiences were supposed to be like and had largely lost their basis of comparison.
Fully emerging from his slumber, which had really lasted less than a minute but seemed much longer as it was not brought on by any artificial means, Julian inquired, "Why did we stop?"
The android in the passenger seat, the latest BHL-42 Model turned to him and replied, 'As you undoubtedly know, Federal Safety Regulations as well as compliance with the manufacturer, Chevrolet, requires that at least one human occupant having achieved the minimum age and having passed the Competency Test for motor vehicle operation is required to be fully awake during the entire duration of travel. As you are the only occupant of this vehicle fitting these requirements, and furthermore, the only human occupant at all, you must remain awake."
Julian looked out at the expanse of desert surrounding the vehicle, one would think there would be more advertisements or something to attract attention along this stretch of road. He sleepily asked the BHL-42, "Why is it necessary for me to stay up during this? When was the last accident along this stretch of road?"
The unit, who Julian actually gave the name Bryan responded, "As I have already stated, compliance is required by both Federal Safety Regulations and the Manufacturer. In the event of temporary system failure, a human occupant must be prepared to take over control of the vehicle at any time. Complete system failure can be caused by a malfunction in the satellite that communicates the navigations and current road conditions to the system, the system malfunctioning by way of a faulty electrical…"
Julian interrupted Bryan, "That's enough. I'm perfectly well-aware of what the requirements are and under what possible conditions system failure could theoretically take place. I should know, I could program a better system than this one if I really wanted to. Answer my second question: When was the last accident along this stretch of road?"
Bryan responded, almost immediately, "The last accident to occur on this, 'Stretch of road,' which I interpret to mean within fifty kilometers in any direction from our present point, was on January 17th 2056, however, there have been multiple system failures along this road since then, including one on March 12th 2063, the most recent, that required the human operator to…"
"More than ten years ago!!??"
"The most recent accident was slightly more than ten years ago, but need I remind you as recently as March 12th 2063 there was a system failure that required the human operator to…"
"Almost three years ago!" Julian continued, "This is ridiculous, what is the probability that there will be a system failure in this specific vehicle between here and Las Vegas?"
Bryan computed for less than half a second and respond, "Bear in mind, Julian, this is an approximation, but my computing systems have determined that the likelihood, given the distance remaining, of a system failure is one in 176,345,919."
"So," Julian concluded, "It's not going to happen."
"Stranger things have, as humans sometimes like to say," Bryan responded.
Julian hit a few buttons and was swiftly delivered a glass of an energy drink from the built-in soda fountain in the backseat. "Okay," he resignedly said, "I will stay awake for the rest of the drive in order to take over the operation of the vehicle, even though that will never happen."
In a way, Julian wished that he could operate the vehicle, but provided the system was functional, that was not a possibility. Manual overrides had been removed as an option twenty years prior when it had been successfully determined that even the most competent human driver was nowhere near as able to handle unforeseen circumstances as the Vehicular Operation Systems. (VOS's) Even if he could engage a manual override, he'd probably have no idea what he was doing, he passed the Competency Test over fifteen years prior, when he turned ten years of age, but there was no stipulation requiring periodic retesting unless one wanted to become a commercial driver.
Julian looked over at Bryan and mused about why he had not chosen one of the female models. Fully customizable, at least if you made the sort of money that Julian did, the manufacturer claimed that, aside from its obvious inability to reproduce, the female model was virtually indistinguishable from a human woman. They were so intricate, in fact, that their external temperatures would even change slightly in response to the atmosphere. However, Julian had taken the time to peruse all of the reviews on the product, and it turned out that despite the manufacturer's best efforts, romantic companionship was simply one thing that could not be adequately simulated or replicated.
That left Julian with Bryan, who he actually designed to look reasonably similar to him, if not just slightly older and more distinguished. "Bryan," Julian asked, "Are we there yet?"
Bryan answered, "No, clearly we are not, but we should arrive in roughly twenty-seven minutes."
Julian let out a sound that could not be distinguished from a groan and a growl and said, "I don't even know why I am going to Las Vegas."
Artificially intelligent computer programs, even those placed in reasonable facsimiles of human bodies were still just as incapable of understanding rhetorical questions as they had ever been, so Bryan responded, "Three days, four hours and about twenty-two minutes ago you received a call from your uncle, who you identified as, 'Frank,' though I do not know whether or not that is, in fact, his name. Of course, I have no reason to believe that you would misidentify him, but…"
"Bryyyyyaannnnn," Julian sighed.
"Shut the hell up."
The pair eventually arrived at a casino known as, 'The Golden Goose Casino,' which was located Downtown, apparently, in a spot that used to house a casino known as, 'The Las Vegas Club.' The Golden Goose Casino was known for having some of the, 'Loosest Odds in Town,' at least according to their billboards, and they also had free car charging ports if you were staying, which was an amenity not shared by any of the casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. Fortunately for Julian, Bryan could carry up to three-hundred kilograms with ease and also had extensions that protruded from his upper chest, just above the built-in viewing screen, in the event that he otherwise lacked adequate, 'Hands.'
They approached the front desk, still staffed by a person for some reason, "Julian Carter, room for...two."
The girl at the front desk with a duplicate of the Golden Goose emblem front and center of a form-fitting tank top looked first at Julian, then at Bryan, and shrugged. She had been at the job for about ten years and there may have been a time that she would find it strange that Julian would refer to the room as having two occupants, but increasingly, people seemed to refer to their automated companions (those that could afford them) as though they were actual people. She had actually meant to do an informal study of how many humans spoke of their automatons as people, but every time she thought about starting it, she forgot about it almost immediately after.
"Room 318,' she said flatly, "The nearest elevator is directly behind you, please remember that no more than ten occupants should be on the elevator at any time, and furthermore, please stand as close as possible to the center of the platform."
She thought back to about two months ago when a drunk guy thought he was going to get cute and stand with one leg on the platform and one suspended in midair. Of course, the worst possible combination of circumstances occurred as the elevator came to a stop, the guy fell the wrong way and ended up going down one of the vertical shafts, it wasn't a terribly long fall, but it was long enough that he broke his arm. The lawsuit was still pending, but expected. Even though the casino had footage of the gentleman trying to perform gymnastics while riding the elevator, the casino would undoubtedly settle...it's cheaper.
Julian and Bryan got on the elevator which first took them to the third floor vertically, and then stopped smoothly and then was met by a thruster which transported them in front of Room 318. After completing the fingerprint scan as well as the voice authentication, the door slid open with a soft whir and Julian found himself looking at a room no larger or smaller than the living room of his apartment. The room appeared to be completely unfurnished, but for a desk, at first, but Julian knew that there would be buttons that would extend beds and couches from either the wall or underneath the floor, depending on how they were situated.
After exploring the accommodations, a frustrated Julian muttered, "How is there not so much as a virtual reality helmet in this room? Do you have any idea, Bryan, how much stuff I would have brought with me to this hellhole had I known there was nothing here? Just wait until my Uncle Frank hears about this, he told me all of this stuff would be here!"
Bryan was unmoved, "Julian, please take a moment to explore the possibility of going down to the casino, or perhaps for a walk, The temperature outside is only 19.4, so that could make for a most enjoyable stroll."
Julian sighed exaggeratedly, "The only stroll I want to take," Julian searched his memory for a virtual reality walk that he really enjoyed and came up short, "I don't want to take a stroll of any kind. What I really want to do is have the capacity at my fingertips to essentially do anything I want, please get my uncle on screen immediately."
Bryan's chestplate slid open audibly revealing a screen that Julian had custom designed just in case he was forced into travelling. Unless his uncle was travelling, in which case, he would be forced to watch the road, he would answer. After about five seconds an image of Uncle Frank finally appeared on the screen with substantial background noise and lights flashing all around him.
"Bryan," Julian ordered, "Lock on to the frequency of my uncle's voice and reduce all background noise to as close to zero percent as reasonably possible. Furthermore, please filter out all non-naturally occurring colors as well as any colors that come primarily as a result of lights. Thank you." With the image on the screen to Julian's liking he said, "Uncle Frank, how are you?"
"I'm doing well, Julian," replied his uncle, "You're actually a little earlier than expected, actually, I wasn't sure that you were going to come at all. I'm at MGM right now, but I should be able to get over there within a half hour or so if you'll just sit tight."
"Uncle Frank," Julian muttered with exasperation, "I'm afraid that sitting is just about all that I can do, well, that and talk to Bryan. There was a whole smorgasbord of amenities that you said this room would have including the latest virtual reality interfaces and equipment, and unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing along those lines in here whatsoever. I understand that you are paying for my accommodations, even though I could afford to, and I respect that, but this room absolutely did not come as you advertised it."
Frank shrugged and replied, "I know."
"You know!? Well, why did you misrepresent this room to me?"
Uncle Frank considered the question for a second, "Eh, I figured I had to first get you into the room in order to get you to want to come out of it, you know what I mean?"
Julian chuckled in annoyance, "Well, you were successful Uncle Frank. Now that I am in this room, I want to come out of it and go right back to Oregon."
Frank retorted sharply, "You gave your word that you would spend at least two days here, besides, you wouldn't know the first thing about Oregon. You know what your apartment, which happens to be in Oregon, looks like, but I doubt if you could even name five places on your street."
Julian wanted to offer a counterpoint, but he knew that his uncle was right. In the last five years, this was the first time that he had left the state and there were, perhaps, only ten occasions during that time that he had even left his apartment. There really wasn't much reason to given all of the delivery services whether it be clothes, groceries, computer parts and any of the other many things that were available. 'House calls,' from one's primary physician had gone from being commonplace to a thing of the past to the expectation all in under a century and a half. Julian dreaded leaving the confines of his apartment so much, in fact, that he would be hard pressed to remember why he had left those other times.
Frank had still been going on this entire time, and Julian's mind tuned back in, "...Even when I said you could come down to California and see me, and I have the full technological outfit at my place, you came up with some excuse because…"
"Uncle Frank," Julian interjected, "I'm sorry. I said that I would be completely open-minded and stay here for two days and that is exactly what I am going to do. The remaining time is forty-seven hours and seventeen minutes based on the time I pulled into the charging port. Although, I'm not considering this trip as having started on a positive note because I was misled about my accommodations. Bryan, end transmission."
Julian looked around the sparse room and found virtually no form of meaningful stimulus in sight, "Well, Bryan, what do we do for the next half hour?"
Eventually, Julian decided to use Bryan's viewing screen as a television even though there wasn't really anything that he wanted to watch, moreover, the screen was a really poor size considering that one of his entire walls at home was also a television...one that he never watched. He jumped from program to program until he had specifically requested twenty programs within the space of ten minutes growing bored with each one after just a few seconds.
"Bryan," Julian moaned, "Terminate the transmission and close your viewing screen, please."
Bryan complied and asked, "What are you planning to do?"
"What else is there to do?"
"Are you asking me to make a suggestion?"
Bryan replied, "It occurs to me that we are in a casino, after all, why not go observe the casino floor while we wait for your uncle? If there is anything of interest to be found in this establishment, I can only imagine that is where it would be."
Julian considered Bryan's proposal for about a full minute, and having come up with no other ideas said, "Okay, let's go down."
Bryan had some knowledge of what to expect when they reached the casino floor as well as knowledge of what specific games might be found there. He had memorized all of the information from WizardofOdds.com, though he had not been told to, in advance of this trip. He had conducted internal simulations and determined that it would be best to simply allow Julian to ask him questions about what he observed rather than making any unsolicited suggestions about what Julian might enjoy. Julian was a strange human in that regard, Bryan decided, he did not really take an interest in very many things that were suggested to him but performed according to expectations when he thought he was discovering something new independently...though he still did not always behave according to expectations even then.
They departed the elevator which deposited them towards one of the far ends of the casino. The layout of the place was such, perhaps deliberately, that it might be difficult for Julian to find that elevator, or one of the others, if he were not accompanied by an automaton such as Bryan who would unfailingly remember the way back. There was a loud whoop from a crowded set of tables stationed near where they had departed and Julian inquired, "What's all that noise about?"
Bryan guided them closer to the table in question and answered, "That game appears to be Blackjack which, simply put, has a goal of getting as close to twenty-one as possible. It's somewhat more complicated than that, so I don't recommend sitting down until I have taught you the game, I am not legally permitted to help you during any time such that you are actively playing."
"What is that, Bryan," Julian began, "A game using cards? People all touch one another's cards? That's repulsive!"
"That is not the case," Bryan replied, "This is a Blackjack game that uses simulated cards and it can be played for a minimum of fifty dollars per hand. If you would like to play a game with physical playing cards, and judging from your reaction I am assuming that you do not, then the minimum bet on such a game is generally two hundred dollars."
"Two hundred dollars to share germs!?"
"As I understand it, sharing germs is not the primary objective of the game." Bryan continued, "In fact, this casino, along with a few of the casinos Downtown is unique in that you get paid six dollars for every five dollars that you bet in the event you are dealt an Ace and a ten value card and the dealer does not receive the same. In most other casinos, you are only paid the same amount that you have bet, unless you want to play for a minimum of one thousand dollars per hand."
Julian had lost interest and continued to walk deeper into the casino while Bryan, who dutifully kept pace, was still talking. Julian eventually observed a person wearing a virtual reality helmet ducking into a crouch and then popping back up, aiming his hands at, well, nothing, and then dropping back down into his crouch. The individual repeated this a few times and then took the helmet off, shaking his head dejectedly.
"What is that?"
Bryan replied, "That is a slot machine. More precisely, it seems to be a Halo 17 unit, the user reviews for that particular device are fabulous. Some of them seem to suggest that the program is every bit as sophisticated as any other FPS virtual reality device on the market."
Julian was perplexed, "I thought slot machines just had levers that you pulled and then tried to line up cherries, bells or whistles or something like that."
"Apparently, you have not studied slot machines." Bryan continued, "Slot machines with operable physical handles were all virtually obsolete as many as fifty years ago with push button operation having replaced all of them and workable physical handles only being an option occasionally. In fact, the last slot machine to even have the option of being operated by way of a handle was last known to be available sometime around 2023. They can only be found in the slot museum or private collections, now."
"Slot museums? Private collections? Do people think these stupid things have as much value as a DaVinci painting?"
Bryan cocked his head, "Interestingly, there was a slot machine game called DaVinci Diamonds in which…"
"I don't care!" Julian rolled his eyes, "My question had more to do with why would anyone ever decide to collect these stupid things?"
"Ask your uncle," Bryan replied, "Since he does collect them and used to design them, he would know better than I do. Speaking of your uncle, I just received a message stating that he would be a little bit later than expected due to running into someone he knows, shall we tour around some more?"
Julian was beyond exasperated at this point, "We might as well," he said, "It's not like we have anything better to do. Maybe we will run into a slot machine designed by Pablo Picasso himself next."
They went around the casino and looked at more of the, 'Slot machine,' titles around the floor. While there were many other virtual reality type games, there were an almost equal number of screen-based devices upon which people would hit the buttons and receive a result. Some of those had graphics that had to have been decades old, if not older, and Julian wondered at their popularity. Bryan mentioned that the fact that such machines remain on the floor indicates that they must be popular because the casinos would not keep them around if they were losing money, beyond that, he stated that the majority of the players of those machines were much older and that the games were rather similar to games they played on social media.
Julian went around and, growing increasingly annoyed by watching people engaged in virtual reality, who had to be having more fun than him, he started just looking at the titles. Dance Dance Reel-Lution, which appeared to be some kind of game in which people won and lost money based upon how well they danced in a virtual reality club had ten product placements, there were a couple of other shooting games, a wide variety of flying games, and then a, 'Multi-Game,' console which allowed the users to choose from over 100 games which were controller-operated though they were outfitted with helmets for the visuals.
Julian took one more look around and shook his head, "I might as well play one of these games if Uncle Frank is going to be late," he reasoned, "How much does it cost to play?"
Bryan replied, "That really depends on what game you would like to play, Julian. Those really old games can be played for as little as ten dollars a spin, but they don't last terribly long. As we discussed, the Blackjack with virtual cards can be played for fifty dollars, but you shouldn't play it, there are other games here that you do not require any skill to play, such as Quadruple-Zero Roulette, and the minimum on that is $25…"
Julian interrupted, "I want to try one of the shooting games, instead...it suits my mood."
"Okay, but you cannot just walk right up to one of them and start playing. The first thing that you have to do is rent a virtual reality helmet. Those can be found just a few meters from us and cost $50 for every three hours in rental fees."
"Does that include playing all the games?"
"Of course not," Bryan replied, "That does not include playing any of the games. It is not a bet, it is a charge to use the helmet. When you play the actual game, that is a bet, and the cost of the game depends largely on which game it is and how sophisticated."
Julian ultimately decided to rent one of the virtual reality helmets and approached the Halo 17 device, however, it was already being played as were the other three Halo 17's within the immediate area. Julian shrugged and walked over to one of the slightly older James Bond themed games, it turned out that playing would cost an additional $50. Julian was incensed, "I have to pay $50 to play one stupid game!?"
Bryan responded, "Not at all, you have to bet $50 to play the game. The State of Nevada has a requirement that every slot machine return at least seventy-five percent of a player's money back to him or her, and the way this game is designed, $37.50 is actually the minimum amount of money that you can get back. The average amount of money, based on simulations, that a player will get back is $40.17 and the maximum possible amount, assuming a perfect score, is $106.24."
Julian was intrigued by this development, "So, if I learned how to play the game perfectly, I could make $56.24 every single time?"
"That would not be the best use of your time in my opinion," Bryan replied, "The so-called, 'Perfect,' game would take well over two hours to complete resulting in earnings of less than twenty-five dollars an hour, less than a quarter of what you make now. Furthermore, the so-called, 'Perfect,' game has actually never been completed and the closest anyone has ever gotten is a return of $88.20. There have allegedly been people, though, who have averaged a return of over seventy dollars per game, but they are usually asked to stop playing."
Julian cocked an eyebrow, "Why would anyone ask them to stop playing?"
Bryan responded, "The casino asks them to stop playing for reasons that are clear to almost nobody. There are so many more people that lose, and only a handful of people have been shown to have any long-term advantage over any virtual reality game, and furthermore, lost some money just to get to that skill level that the casino barely loses anything as a result of these long-term winners."
"How many is a, 'Handful?'"
"Excuse me," Bryan said, "I was just using the terminology that was used on one of the sites that I memorized. The exact number of players that are long-term winners is unknown, however, based on the reflexes and visual acuity of the average person, less than zero-point-one percent of the population even theoretically could be long-term winners."
"How long does a game last?"
"That really depends on how well you perform, Julian," Bryan replied, "The average game lasts approximately forty seconds and ends either when you are fatally shot or due to inactivity. The amount of money you get back is based on two factors: How long the game lasted and how many enemies you killed, but if you remain immobile for longer than two seconds, the game will automatically terminate due to inactivity. There are some games that do not terminate due exclusively to player inactivity, but they cost more to play."
"I want to play one of those, instead."
Bryan scanned the titles of all of the games within seconds and ran them against the descriptions in the reviews, "I have come up with a suggestion."
Bryan guided Julian over to a game called, 'Reel Sniper,' and explained the rules to him, "In this game, you are a sniper and the motion detection on this game is top notch, so even if your shot goes errant it is because you aimed poorly, rather than because the game somehow misjudged where you were aiming. The minimum bet for this game is one hundred dollars and, while the average return is 80.2% of your money, there is no guaranteed minimum return because, after careful analysis, it has been determined that the long-term expectation based off the average player is sufficient to overcome the 75% law."
"Okay," Julian asked, "So, how do you win?"
Bryan answered, "You win based on how many enemies you kill and how you kill them with, 'Instant Death Head Shots,' as the game calls them, being the most profitable types of kills. Secondly, if you shoot an enemy in the chest, he will die immediately regardless of whether or not your bullet would have actually struck the heart. The highest computer-simulated theoretical return is $1,085.46, but that has never been achieved. In fact, nobody has ever successfully enjoyed a return of over $500."
"Turning $100 into over $400 wouldn't be bad, though," Julian said, "I also have a sniper simulator at home, so I should be reasonably good at this game. What are the circumstances that cause someone to lose?"
"The first way to lose is by missing a shot because the enemies become aware of your position and rush you. At that point, the best you can do is salvage some money by shooting as many of the enemies as possible before they get within range and take you out. The second way to lose is by deliberately resigning, you see, the amount of money that you can take just by choosing to give up is always some amount greater than the amount of money that you have already earned, so that is an attractive option to some because the enemies get farther away with each one you kill."
Julian played the game, but far less remarkably than he expected. Not only did the enemies become substantially farther away each time one of them was killed, but they also moved around much more. The first enemy he killed, for example, was sitting on his field pack eating lunch. By the time the game ended, the enemies available to shoot were in an entrenchment and he had just milliseconds to get off a shot when an enemy would raise his head. Ultimately, the result was that Julian's $100 wager got him $97.80.
"That wasn't a bad game," Julian said, "I don't know how they influence the brain waves to actually feel as though there is sand under your feet, but that's pretty cool. You also felt the weight of the sniper rifle in your hands, too, very high-tech stuff. You should play it, Bryan, I bet you could achieve as close to the highest score as reasonably possible."
"The only thing I would achieve," suggested Bryan, "Is getting you a one-way trip to federal prison. It is completely illegal to have an automaton play the game on your behalf, otherwise, nobody in possession of an automaton would ever lose. Besides, there is also the possibility that the headgear could fry my circuits."
"I wouldn't want that," Julian agreed, "I could play this game thousands of times before I lost what you cost to buy!"
"Would you like to play again, Julian?"
"No," Julian said, "Maybe another time, though. I think I would like to see how skilled I am at dancing."
It turned out that Julian was not a skilled dancer at all, an effect that not leaving one's place for several months tends to have on people. He had fun with the game, but at three plays that cost $25 each, he only came out of it with $37.22.
"I'm going to get better at that game," Julian said.
Bryan disagreed, "I mean no disrespect, as you know, but having analyzed your movements both here and elsewhere, you are a worse dancer than approximately 92% of all people, which interestingly enough, was borne out almost exactly by your financial results from playing the game. Though you might improve, it will never be the expectation that you will play it profitably because, given your natural ineptitude at dancing, it would take you more time than you will likely be alive to improve to that great an extent."
"Thanks, Bryan," Julian responded sarcastically.
"I'm just trying to save you money."
Julian wandered around the rest of the casino and eventually tried out a few other shooting games. He lost on four of the five other games that he tried, but on the game he won, he nearly tripled his bet which made up all of the money he had lost to that point and a little bit more on top of that. He thought about playing the game again, but then decided against it because he recognized he had gotten lucky with a nearly blind shot at an enemy that had been approaching him from the right side. Julian had caught that enemy just out of the corner of his eye as the enemy was raising his weapon and he got off a shot with the pistol in his left hand that really had no business connecting but for pure luck.
"Nice job," Bryan told him, "You won."
Julian winked at Bryan, "Did you really expect anything else?"
Bryan could detect a false bravado in that wink, in fact, he could recognize the truth behind most facial expressions better than most humans, but he decided to let Julian have his moment.
"I just received a message from your Uncle Frank," Bryan said, "He is walking into the building right now."
"Good," Julian responded in a biting tone apparently forgetting the fun he had just had, "How long have we been down here, anyway?"
"Approximately three hours."
Julian was shocked when he heard that news, not only had he lost track of the time, but he had actually been having fun in the process. He really wanted to remain irritated with his uncle for being so late, but upon reflection, he realized that even simple virtual reality games were more enjoyable when there was a little bit of money on the line, even if it wasn't a life-changing sum.
They met up with Uncle Frank in the hotel lobby. He reminded Julian of his mother who had always been fond of the outdoors and remained so until the day she died, like her, Uncle Frank had an olive complexion only made darker by how frequently he spent time outside which further accentuated his dark hair and wide deep brown eyes. Of course, Uncle Frank was considerably shorter than Julian at about 1.7 meters compared to almost 1.9 for Julian. Julian's hair was closer to medium brown than dark and his skin was much lighter, also accentuated, as it turns out, by the amount of time he spent outdoors.
Uncle Frank gave Julian a quick embrace and said, "Jules! It seems like I haven't seen you since...well...don't worry about the last time we saw each other. The point is, you are here now!"
Julian's Uncle Frank was a collector of slot machines and formerly worked as a concept engineer as well as a programmer. He had always enjoyed gambling and retired, he said, 'So I can finally play the damn things!' There was a concern amongst most regulators that the people who design the machines, regardless of their part in the process or whether or not, in fact, the machine actually is beatable could program, 'Glitches,' in there and then take advantage. This notion eventually extended to all casino games and eventually led to active employees being banned entirely from the gaming floor.
The result was complete and total inefficiency and quick turnover of employees, not only because they wanted to gamble, but mostly because they couldn't fully understand what it is the public wants from the machines without actually being able to play them themselves. The result was technology and presentation developed at a much faster rate than the casinos could keep up with and slot machines almost continuously felt, 'A few years behind,' at least, that was the public's perception. Uncle Frank, who was actually Julian's mother's older brother, was near enough mandatory retirement age anyway that he decided just to hang it up.
For his part, Julian did remember the last time he and his Uncle Frank saw each other, at his mother's funeral. Even though the two did not know one another especially well, Julian (unlike either of his parents) having always been voluntarily a bit isolated from the world, his Uncle Frank had offered to let Julian come live with him and expressed concern those few times they did speak via video as to how isolated Julian seemed to be.
Of course, Julian declined his uncle's invitation as he considered living alone to perhaps be the only positive that came out of his mother's death. Even with that, he always answered when his uncle attempted to get in touch with him, since he never went anywhere he lacked deniability as to being aware of the transmission, but he usually did not tend to speak with his uncle for a terribly long time on these occasions. Either way, Julian found himself pleasantly surprised to see his uncle now.
Julian nodded, "Right. Well, thanks for the invite Uncle Frank as well as covering the food and hotel room. As much as I hate to admit it, I played a few of the games while I was waiting, and while most of them are slightly lacking in terms of presentation, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the betting itself increases the entertainment value a little bit."
"Did you win a billion dollars, Julian?"
"Of course not!" Julian paused, "Wait, you can win a billion dollars on these games? That's not what Bryan said."
Julian made the proper introductions between his automaton and his Uncle Frank and Uncle Frank responded, "There is a game called MegaBucks upon which the top prize is one billion dollars, which would set most people up for life, but you'd be surprised what has befallen a few of the winners. Anyway, that game will just mostly take your money."
Julian did not want to admit to playing the dancing game, shooting Bryan a warning look he said, "I just played a few of the shooting games."
"From a betting standpoint, those are very well-designed," Uncle Frank said.
"How do you mean?"
"There are a number of components that go into a well-designed slot machine," Uncle Frank began, "But the three most important that come to mind are the perception of beatability, the perception of a walk-away factor when there really isn't one, and replay value."
"What are those things? Remember, you did this for a living. Bryan might follow you, but I have no idea what the Hell you are talking about!"
Uncle Frank explained, "The slot machines have to be perceived to be beatable. That doesn't necessarily mean that people have to think they are at an advantage, in fact, the majority of them know they are not, and cannot be, or the casino could not remain in operation because it would lose money. However, if it seems that players are only slightly more likely to lose than they are to win, just ever so slightly, then they are more likely to continue to play hoping to get lucky, or if a skill-game, to get, 'Over the hump,' if anyone still uses that term. In other words, to a certain extent, they know they can't win in the long-term, but still believe they can. Isn't that wild? Believing the exact opposite of what you know?"
Julian responded, "I cannot imagine that I would ever believe something that goes not just against my personal experiences, but all available data and anything that can be logically inferred, as well."
"I doubt you would either," came the reply, "At the same time, there are those out there who do exactly that."
"What were the other two factors?"
"The second one is the perception of a walk-away factor. The ultimate goal is really to design a machine that people will play until all of the money they brought for playing is gone while still convincing people that they could win enough to just, 'Walk away.' That's actually quite a balancing act because the first thing that has to happen is the player needs to have a reasonable probability of winning almost enough to be satisfied, but not quite. After that, the player keeps going in an effort to reach some arbitrary amount of winnings, but generally fails, and then the goal becomes to, 'Get back up to even.' Isn't that something? They just want to get to where they were before they even started playing the game to begin with and that would be a success!"
"That doesn't sound like much of a success," Julian said flatly.
"Well," Uncle Frank responded, "It's not, but even then that's not the best part. The best part is, even in the event the player gets close to even, even, or perhaps a little better than even, they then use that as evidence that they can get ahead to the desired amount. You could have a machine with a comparatively high return percentage that essentially has no huge jackpot potential, but people think they can achieve whatever arbitrary amount they set for themselves by having just a few consecutive successful games."
"That almost sounds like a rip off."
Uncle Frank's face almost took on a hurt expression, lips turned slightly down he responded, "It's not, in fact, it's the farthest thing from a rip off in the world. What people really want is the excitement of almost reaching a goal with the final result being left up to chance, and perhaps a little bit of skill. That's not true of everyone, though, which is why there are still some machines out there with a huge jackpot even though most plays will result in very close to nothing, but that player is a totally different type of demographic. The player is, for the most part, getting what he really wants because he is losing."
"I don't believe that for a second."
"Julian," Uncle Frank said, "Slot machines have existed in one capacity or another for nearly two centuries, and slot machines with a payout structure similar to what I am describing have been around for nearly one century. The only thing that ever meaningfully changes is the presentation, and that's necessary to keep people engaged, but slot machines are otherwise doing the same thing that they always have and probably always will."
Despite his reclusiveness, Julian had always been interested in human psychology and this seemed like a first-hand lesson, "What was the third thing, again?"
"Replay value," Uncle Frank immediately responded, "And, that's actually the most important factor, now that I think about it. Even when a player wins, even with how psychology and continuing to bet work together, the game has to be fundamentally fun to play if you want the players to continue to put their money into the device. If that seems terribly obvious," Uncle Frank chuckled, "That's because it is."
"Let me understand this," Julian began, "You're suggesting that people find these games worth playing over and over again, even if they are losing actual money, just because they find them fun? That seems like it would only apply to the dullest of minds."
Uncle Frank laughed outright, "It applies to minds across the whole range of the intellectual spectrum, Julian! Let me ask you a question, did you play any games more than once?"
Julian didn't have to think long about the answer. It immediately occurred to him that not only had he played the dancing game that he hadn't mentioned to his uncle multiple times, but also that he played it the greatest number of times and it was the game he was worst at! Julian, in almost stunned disbelief, could do nothing but nod. Thinking about it some more, he also realized that it had barely occurred to him that he got off a really lucky shot that caused him to win money on the shooting game upon which he did prevail, and that he had almost decided to continue playing that one in the hopes that he would win some more money.
"Don't worry about it," Uncle Frank calmly stated appraising Julian's expression of disbelief, "It happens to quite a few people, and in fact, it could happen to almost anyone when it comes to them finding, 'The right game,' did you win overall?"
"Yes," Julian replied, though he suspected that if his uncle had been a few hours later he wouldn't have come out on the winning side, "I did win a few bucks, but the amount is so low as to be unworthy of mention."
"They say that, 'Losing is only the second worst thing that can happen to a first time gambler,'" Uncle Frank replied, "No worries, though, just don't play slot machines anymore and not only will you be a lifetime winner, but from this point forward, you can never lose!"
"Bryan tells me that some of them are beatable."
Uncle Frank shot Bryan an accusatory look before remembering that Bryan is an automaton, "That's not true in any practically meaningful way."
Julian asked, "How do you mean that?"
"Player tracking is much better than it used to be," Uncle Frank began, "When you rent that helmet, the machines know who is playing as a result and they are constantly tracking your results. The machines themselves, when you do win, can actually determine how likely you are to be randomly ahead given a particular number of trials and when your winnings against the number of times you have played reach the point that they are likely not random, and it really doesn't take that long, the casino asks you to stop playing that particular game, that particular type of game, shooting games for example, or sometimes casinos will ban you completely."
"That doesn't seem fair," Julian said.
"I will admit that is one aspect of casino management that I disagree with," Uncle Frank replied, "Besides that, games are designed these days so that almost nobody could become good enough on the skill-based ones to beat the casinos out of any amount of money that would be truly detrimental to the bottom line, but most casinos, almost out of principle, seem to be happy to take adverse action against a player they deem to have an advantage. Some casinos will let a player go longer than others, though, because the perception that there are players that can consistently beat the game often results in people thinking that they could themselves become such players, even though they lack the requisite skill for that to ever happen for them."
"What about the card games? Can people beat those long-term?"
"I'll admit to not knowing as much about those," Uncle Frank said in a reflective tone, "So, this is based mostly on second-hand information, but it is my understanding that there was a time that card games could be routinely beaten by a mathematically skilled player. Of course, those games were largely based on better rules that resulted in a far lower advantage for the casino than the advantage they have based on the rules offered now."
"Can any of them be beaten now?"
"For one thing," Uncle Frank replied, "It would absolutely have to be a live dealer game at a live dealer table, so not only are those games played at higher minimums, but you would also have to bet an extreme amount of money in those rare circumstances that you had even a minuscule advantage such that it is hardly worth the time to learn and implement. Some people do it essentially as a hobby, but even some of those people are identified and asked not to play anymore."
"How is any of that fair?"
"Casinos were never really meant to be fair," came the response, "It is just, as the technology has improved, the casinos have gotten better at not being fair. Player tracking is really the biggest detriment to anyone who could play at an advantage, verifying identification has improved so much that it is impossible to play under any kind of an alias, so the casino always knows who is doing the betting. If you're a hobbyist, I suppose it really doesn't matter as long as you know that the hammer is going to come down eventually, but professional advantage play, for lack of a better word, is dead."
"I have heard that sports betting can be beaten, and there is still poker, right?"
"That's really only partially true on both counts. Betting lines can be beaten, but the built-in house edge derived from the way that the lines are set is such that it cannot be beaten to any meaningful extent. First of all, the bettors would have to find an advantageous line which, the last that I heard, might come by way of one in every ten thousand propositions none of which are any kind of, 'Traditional bet,'" Uncle Frank closed his air quotes and continued, "They all come by way of, 'Prop bets,' and the betting limits on those are so low that, again, it is the playground of hobbyists. There is simply no way to do that on a professional basis or for any meaningful amount of money."
"Poker is a little bit different," Uncle Frank admitted, "Although, the house takes a much greater, 'Rake,' than it used to which means its fixed cut percentage of every pot in a cash game or entry fees to tournaments, so there are hardly any people doing that professionally. If you have a home game, that would generally not have a rake, so you might be able to succeed by being better than the other players. I think the rake in casino poker or tournament fees are far too great for 99.999% of players to overcome, though."
"The whole thing really doesn't seem fair at all," Julian suggested.
"That's the thing, Julian, casinos were never meant to be fair. They are expected to offer fair games in the sense of randomness, or virtual reality games that are not outright rigged to cause the player to lose when there are no reasonable circumstances that would lead to that result, but they are not fair in the sense that the house always has an edge. Even when games were theoretically beatable as well as being beatable as a practical matter, that was never really the intended situation and the games were largely designed to prevent that from happening, with only a few exceptions. The casino, ultimately, does not want to gamble...the players do."
"Why did you have me come here, then, Uncle Frank?" Julian followed up, perplexed, "What is the point of me coming to the Golden Goose if none of the games are beatable, or if I could beat them, they would just kick me out anyway? How are we going to have fun like that?"
"I have fun all the time at the casinos," Uncle Frank said, "For all of the changes that have been made in the casinos, whether it be virtual reality based slot machines, or anything else, the overall environment hasn't really changed too much, and that's especially true with table games. You can still get free drinks here as well as checking out all of the scantily clad cocktail waitresses, at least, when you don't have that headgear on!"
Julian would just as soon not admit it, but he had taken a marked notice of the, 'Scantily clad cocktail waitresses,' and definitely appreciated the view. Whether or not the player could enjoy a reasonable expectation of winning, he also noticed that they all seemed to be having fun regardless of what their game of choice was. In fact, observing the people and the environment was almost as entertaining as playing the actual games.
He asked Uncle Frank if he would be fine with just walking around for a few minutes. Uncle Frank agreed and Julian spent the time walking around and observing everything. He noticed someone tap-tap-tapping on one of the older style slot machines as though he expected that to somehow change the results. There was a woman playing the MegaBucks machine who hit two of the MegaBucks symbols, but missed on the third reel, she lowered her head into her hands and Julian thought she was crying, but then she lifted her head back up and shook it with a lopsided grin on her face.
One of the automated cocktail waitresses went by and scanned Julian's virtual reality helmet, "Your play so far today has entitled you to two free alcoholic beverages, in order to earn more cocktails please continue to play here at the Golden Goose! Would you like to enjoy one of your free alcoholic beverages now? Non-Alcoholic beverages can be enjoyed for free, at any time, regardless of your level of play as long as you have rented a helmet. Thank you again for visiting the Golden Goose, please make your order or simply say, 'No thank you.'"
"Response registered as being equivalent to, 'No thank you,' thank you again for your patronage of the Golden Goose Casino. If you change your mind, simply say, 'Cocktail,' and you will be served in the order in which your voice was detected."
"They still use live cocktail waitresses in the high-limit areas, Julian," Uncle Frank said, winking , "At least you can pretend there, but you know you'll never get one of these automatons into bed with you."
They continued to walk around the casino floor, Julian couldn't help but admire the lights flashing all over the place and almost had second thoughts about accepting one of his drinks, he did say, 'Cocktail,' but decided on one of the energy drinks instead. It had been so long since he had alcohol, he thought just one drink might have an effect on him.
"I haven't played anything, yet," Uncle Frank declared, "Wait another minute and then say, 'Cocktail,' and get me a rum and coke if you're not going to use them, please."
An automaton cocktail waitress approached and looked at Frank, "You do not have a virtual reality helmet on, sir, if you have played any table games today please place your finger in the palm of my hand on the fingerprint scanner and I will see if you have any free alcoholic beverages. If you do not, then you may still have a free non-alcoholic beverage."
"That was for me," Julian said, "I wanted a rum and coke, please."
"Excellent choice, sir," replied the automaton, "I will be back with your order in less than one minute, thank you for choosing the Golden Goose Casino."
Julian laughed, "That was easier to fool than an automaton should be."
His uncle responded, "You probably didn't fool it at all, but if you're entitled to a drink, then you're entitled to a drink. As long as you are the one to order it, it's yours to do with as you like once you get it."
The trio walked into one of the high limit rooms and looked around at some of the virtual reality machines, two live cocktail waitresses were flitting around in there which reaffirmed Julian's notion that automatons simply could not truly replace actual women. "I think I might take that drink," he said to his uncle.
"You could," Uncle Frank responded, "But, your free alcoholic drinks from the main floor would be converted to free non-alcoholic drinks in here which themselves actually cost money if you haven't played enough. The formula is different at every casino, but generally speaking, you would have to earn five free alcoholic drinks out there in order to have just one in here. Check out the minimum on that machine!"
Julian looked at the machine his uncle had indicated and thought he saw a decimal point, having only three numbers on prices, such as $50.0, was now commonplace since pennies and nickels had been removed from currency over a decade prior. "Fifty bucks? I saw a more expensive machine on the main floor."
"There's no decimal point there," his uncle laughed, "That's a five hundred dollar machine, and the only reason it is only five hundred bucks is because you must purchase at least two plays at a time!"
"I make good money, but that's a bit rich for my blood."
"Some people have even richer blood than you do, apparently. That's too rich for mine, too, but the high limit room for table games has something pretty cool, let's go!"
Julian didn't know what to expect as he followed his uncle, though they had wandered the casino floor for several minutes, perhaps even a half hour, his uncle had not specifically suggested any game or destination. He was really following Julian more than it was the other way around. On the way to the high limit table games, Julian passed the shooting game upon which he had actually won and thought about playing again before shaking his head.
"This casino has something that is truly remarkable, Julian," his uncle began. "There are other casinos with this game handled by live dealers, but the minimum bet can often range anywhere from three hundred all the way up to a thousand bucks. In this casino, even though the game is in the high limit room, two of the tables only have twenty-five dollar minimums."
"I take it there is still a house edge?"
"Of course," his uncle responded, "Though the house edge is actually really small on this game if you play it right. That's because it is still an extremely popular game and there was never, is not, and never will be any way the game can be beaten. Of course, that doesn't stop people from thinking it can due to the fact that they think they can control the results, but there's really no way in Hell."
"What game would that be?"
"Craps, of course!" Julian's uncle continued excitedly, "Other than the minimums, Craps is the one casino game that has remained very close to unchanged since the first dice were thrown under the current rules. They actually tried an electronic version of the game, at one point, but it died after a couple of decades. The best part of the game is that the player gets to throw the dice!"
Julian was aghast, "Yuck!"
"Don't worry, Julian, I guess that is one other change to the game. The dice are sanitized before being given to a new player, so you don't have to worry about anything along those lines."
Julian and his uncle played Craps for the next several hours and enjoyed being both up and down along the way. Frank enjoyed his own free alcoholic beverages, earning one for every $2,000 in total bets, and he also enjoyed most of Julian's, as the latter was still reluctant to meaningfully imbibe. Julian was pleasantly surprised at how much fun he was having not just playing the actual game, but also interacting with the other players, he also noted how the game was unique in the sense that people seemed to be playing together given that all of them (usually) did not want to see a total of seven come up on the dice. He bellowed with joy when he rolled a four while having the maximum odds of 10x up on his original bet, even though that was barely enough to get him back to even.
After they were done playing, they returned to Julian's room and Frank went on about how Julian should go with him on a, 'Backpacking,' trip to some mountain in California that his uncle had planned. Of course, Julian had to later ask Bryan what a, 'Backpack,' was, but he agreed to the trip, anyway. It occurred to Julian that, if something as simple as playing games throwing a couple of dice could be fun, then maybe there were other things in the world that were worth experiencing. Interestingly, it also occurred to him that the less need there was for people to leave their apartments, the more they should want to.
Written by: Brandon James